Foodservice Equipment Reports

Pittsburgh, Seattle Consider Letter Grades

Pittsburgh and Seattle are the latest large metropolitan areas to consider requiring restaurants to post health department inspection letter grades on their doors. Operators in those two cities want more say in how the process will work

Backers of the measures point to the self-proclaimed success of New York City, where the health department boasts that 85% of restaurants there now hold a sanitary inspection grade of “A”—up 20% since 2010—as evidence that its pioneering system works. But in 2013, New York’s City Council softened parts of the regulations after recognizing that the inspection process and letter-grade system put an unfair financial and regulatory burden on restaurant owners. The pushback against letter grades is increasingly being framed as a contest between overreaching local governments and overwhelmed small businessmen who happen to own restaurants.

Many Pittsburgh-area operators are voicing support for the current system, which uses less-specific color codes to indicate inspection results. Officials in Washington State’s King County are taking a painstaking approach to implementing a grading system for Seattle restaurants. A grassroots campaign headed by a two-time e-coli victim has pushed for tough new regulations that will produce more visibility for restaurant inspection scores. In response, the Washington State Restaurant Association is lobbying for a system in which restaurants are assigned a score and letter grade that reflect an aggregate score and letter grade from multiple inspections, not just a one-shot affair. A pilot program should debut this year, with full implementation to follow.

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